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West Virginia Wildlife
Barn Owls
Patrick McMurtry Meet The Elusive Barn Owl

May 9, 2012
Reporter: Patrick McMurtry
Videographer: Brad Rice


"This one would probably take off if I'd let him go." says Rob Tallman, a biologist with The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

These little guys are a couple months old, but they're already almost full grown.

"They will get a little bigger, but not a whole lot. The barn owl is not a real large bird, a lot of people think they are because of the wing span and the white color-confused it with Mothman and other things, and that noise, that awful noise, kinda ghost-like, I guess." says Tallman.

These birds are just mad, that's why they're screeching. And if you think it's loud for us, imagine what this guy's brothers and sisters are going through. These birds have phenomenal hearing. That's how they hunt. Believe it or not, the shape of their face helps them hear.

"Most owls have that, but it's much more pronounced in the barn owl. It's kind of a dish that draws in light and sound and enables them to see in low light conditions and to hear well. They also hear in three dimensions. The disc is off set and it enables them to hear distance, depth, left and right as well. They can really pinpoint prey in the dark." says Tallman.

If you have any of these amazing creatures living in your barn, you can actually pinpoint exactly what they're preying on.

"These are the pellets to look for. The owls cough these up much like a cat and a fur ball. You can actually pick through these and identify what these birds have been eating. Here's a skull we picked out that is actually a short tail shrew skull. You know it's a shrew because of the black teeth." says Tallman.

Barn owls need a lot of rodents to survive. A pair of adults will go through 50 to 60 voles and mice every night. To do that, they need the right conditions to live and hunt.

"When these guys take off, where do they go? We really don't know, that's why were doing this. Agricultural habitat is fairly limited as opposed to other areas of the country. These sites are producing lots of owls, they're going somewhere, we're really not sure where." says Tallman.

One thing's for sure, where ever these owls go, farmers will be glad to see them.

LEARN MORE at the W. Va. DNR


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